Derived from the ancient Asian form of torture -“Death by a thousand cuts” or “Lingchi”, “A thousand Cuts” is a series of portraits and stories that present a photographic study of patterns of domestic abuse in the South Asian community.
I have borrowed the metaphorical meaning of Lingchi to showcase the cyclical nature of domestic abuse.
The continuous act of chipping at the soul of the abused, is expressed by making cuts on the portrait of the participant.
The paper used to print the portrait is a thin A4 sheet, depicting the fragility of her existence.
The red colour underneath the portraits signifies not just martyrdom and strength but also the onset of a new beginning.
“A thousand Cuts” is an effort to understand abuse from many different frames of references.
The reason for creating this series was to found a safe space for individual narratives and lived experiences of domestic violence survivors to be shared and spoken of freely. Without fear of stigma or judgement.
Through these conversations, each of the participants and myself... we understood our trauma at a deeper level. Between us, we created a vector of faith that helped us locate repeated cultural, social, parental, economic and genetic coercive patterns that gave our individual journeys a certain similitude... a sense of universality, which was both deeply disturbing, yet at the same time liberating in a way for us.
“A Thousand Cuts,” is a collaborative body of work created with the courage and strength of survivors of domestic violence. It is our genuine hope that the world will one day, abandon the conspiracy of silence for a collective future where talking about one's own abuse is normalised.
This series is as much a dialogue with myself as it is the act of listening to other survivors of abuse whose voices have been erased.
I’d say, I have been preparing for this series from the time I was in my mother’s womb. It is there, that I started witnessing violence for the very first time.
The actual conversations though began early last year (2022.) I was still working on my series “Changing the Conversation” (that focuses on photographing people with visible differences) back then.
In my discussion with one of the participants, who is of Indian origin, we had a very disturbing however, real conversation about how her perpetrators existed within “home”.
“Home” being a metaphorical term here describing not a physical space but energies… many energies and realms of individual and systemic consciousnesses, placed in relative positions to each other.
We spoke of how generations of human and societal conditioning formulated her understanding of simple feelings such as love, care and belonging. How she equated all of these feelings to some or the other form of coercive control and how that understanding itself helped perpetuate and in a sense normalise the verbal and psychological abuse that was meted out to her by her elders and society at large.
It is a very complex reality. Of being a woman. Also, of being a south asian woman. I started to find in me this urgent need to engage with this complex, yet very subtle reality.
So I reached out to Sayeeda Ashraf at the charity - Shewise UK. Sayeeda and I had been work colleagues in the past and I knew about the immensely important work she was doing in the field of helping survivors of Domestic Violence in becoming financially independent.
I discussed with her about my intent. Sayeeda along with Salma Ullah and Saima Khan from Shewise, have been extremely instrumental in helping me reach out to the survivors and initiate a dialogue that is ongoing ofcourse but is most importantly sheltered with appropriate safeguards.
The survivors who have very generously agreed to participate in this project, are each experiencing differing stages of trauma so it was important for me to ensure that our engagement doesn’t leave their wounds bleeding.